As I write this blog post, I’m working on my fourth book. My first book, Teen People of the Bible, was published in the Fall of 2007. Even though I was a professional writer and editor for around 6 years before it was published, I feel like my biggest leaps forward have happened since I first put letters on the page for my first book and today. Here are my ten lessons:
1. Getting a book contract is not a destination, but the beginning of a journey. We work so hard to get a publisher, an agent, a bestselling author to notice us that we forget the book contract is not the end point. It’s the launching point. After you’ve gotten signed your name on the contract and you send it back to the publisher, now the hard work begins. You actually have to craft words that inspire.
2. Editors are your best friends. When I turned in Teen People, I thought it was the greatest piece of literature since Hemingways’ For Whom the Bell Tolls. Actually it was woefully inadequate, chopping in many places and needing much editing. The publisher was so kind in gently helping me through this. I’ve since learned that having a team of people edit your work before you turn it in makes your publisher happy and gives you a reputation as a professional.
3. Writing is part inspiration, part perspiration. Those of us who write write because we enjoy it, because we can’t do much else. We write because God has given us something to put on paper to inspire others. But let’s not sugar-coat this. Writing is, as my old boss used to say, “stinkin hard work.” You don’t always feel like writing. You feel like checking Twitter, eating a Cinnamon, or calling your long-lost friend from New Jersey. You must discipline yourself to write (something I’m still struggling with).
4. You don’t know what you’re book is about until you’re finished. This sounds weird, but its true. I had a vision, an outline of my chapters, but it wasn’t until I began actually thinking and processing the book’s ideas that I got the concept for Teen People of the Bible. And it wasn’t until I “put my pen down” that I actually knew what God wanted me to write in that book.
5. You first preach to yourself. If no one ever read anything I wrote (a distinct possibility in those early days), I would still have been a richer person for having gone through the pain of writing a book. I learned so much about the Scriptures, about God, about myself. I feel writing has made me a better person.
6. Writing a book is only half the battle. So, great, you’ve written a book. You think it may even be a classic. But only you, you’re increasingly patient wife, and all your groupies at church know about it. So that’s at last twelve copies sold, most of which you gave free to bribe people to get excited about your book. The dirty secret of writing is that you must sell your book. Yes your publisher will try hard to get you on Oprah, but likely, as unknown, you’ll have to do the hardest work pushing your book to blogs, radio shows, tv shows, and bookstores.
7. Hype is good, content is better. You will be inundated with marketing ideas, PR packages, and other opportunities. You will be told you “have to” do approximately 127 things in order to sell your book. Best thing you can to, though, is actually write a good book people will want to talk about. Marketing is key. You’ve got to get your book into people’s hands. But if all you do is market and don’t produce a value for the reader, you’ll not have anything about which to discuss.
8. You will grow with each book you write. I’m in a different place now than I was when I wrote my first book. God uses each one to do a work in my heart. I also feel my writing has advanced exponentially from book one until now and I pray I grow as a writer until God takes me home. You’re first book isn’t the defining book of your life.
9. Getting published is cool. Writing books that have impact is better. I’ll be honest, it’s cool to see the name, “Daniel Darling” in print. I feel like God has fulfilled my dreams that way. But lately I’ve been thinking more about my life, my entire body of work. What impact am I having? Now I want to just write good books. Not simply get published. I want to be a conduit for God’s grace, so that it flows through me to the lives of my readers.
10. Keep the well full. You can’t write from a dry well. That means if you want to write books of impact, read books of impact. Stretch yourself. Read outside of your preferred genre. Read books from a different theological perspective. Read good books. Read books that make you stop and think. And read books that enlighten you about worlds you know nothing about. And listen to sermons, read widely on blogs, and develop relationships that grow your heart. This all will make you a better writer.